The NBA’s old and new referee problem

In case you haven’t heard, former NBA referee Tim Donaghy has dropped the dime on his old league – alleging that playoff games in 2002 and 2005 were influenced by referees under orders from the league.

Now, it’s not news that the refs in the 2002 playoff match up between the Lakers and Kings weren’t legit – anyone who watched the game not wearing a Lakers jersey (retail or authentic) could tell you that. What is news is that the corruption extends into the league office. But I don’t mean to lend credibility to these allegations just yet.

The real problem is the on-going perception among fans and even media members that the only explanation for some of the wildly inconsistent reffing is some sort of collusion the involves the entire league. During last week’s Celtics-Pistons series, I was listening to some Celtic radio guys gripe about the reffing favoring the Pistons. They considered the possibility of corruption, but then decided that the league would obviously prefer a Lakers Celtics Finals to a Lakers Pistons Finals, so they gave up that topic. This was before the Donaghy news came out, mind you. My point is that around the league, when you feel like the refs are squeezing your team, particularly in the playoffs, you immediately consider the fact that some amount of corruption is in play.

I don’t know what exactly the NBA needs to do to rid itself of this stigma, but it should have figured it out by now. When it comes to the fans’ perceptions, none of the other major sports have the same problem that the NBA does. Even baseball, where balls and strikes are some of the most arbitrary calls that any official in any sport has to make, doesn’t have this problem. As an Angel fan, I still think that the Doug Eddings led umpiring crew cost our team the 2005 playoff series against the White Sox, but I’ve always blamed that on their own ineptitude, and the idea of some higher form of collusion never occurred to me until writing this sentence.

Obviously some independent organization needs to be formed, so that, as far as the fans can tell, David Stern is completely removed from the process of evaluating referees. And if these allegations do turn out to be true, there is absolutely no excuse. Every sport’s television ratings depend on attractive match ups, shame on you Stern if you actually are manipulating the outcomes. You’re own greed will have been your downfall.

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